Prison staff in Victoria will now be required to have their beards and moustaches approved, or have them shaved off, in order to ensure they can use breathing equipment correctly in an emergency.
According to a Corrections Victoria spokeswoman, “acceptable facial hair” is critical in preventing smoke inhalation during a fire as it ensures a proper seal is achieved when using breathing equipment.
“We don’t believe it’s fair that staff who have beards or non-compliant moustaches should be able to stand aside when there is a fire, leaving it to colleagues to don breathing apparatus and respond to the emergency,” the spokeswoman told the AAP.
The union representing prison staff have criticised the ban as well as Correction Victoria’s lack of flexibility, claiming they have been dismissive of any suggested alternatives during negotiations over the last 12 months. Community and Public Sector Union spokesman, Julian Kennelly, said the corrections agency seemed “hell bent on causing division” within Victorian jails.
Prison staff are exempt from the ban if their facial hair is grown on religious grounds, or if they are on a permanent roster that would render it “inconceivable” that they would be required for frontline response in an emergency.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that beard safety laws have been under the spotlight in Australia. A diesel truck driver was dismissed in 2015 for refusing to comply with a mining company’s ‘clean-shave’ policy. Similarly, the policy was enforced on the grounds that breathing equipment is compromised if a proper seal is not achieved.
The driver applied for relief of unfair dismissal but was rejected by the Fair Work Commission who found the dismissal “reasonable” and upheld the company’s decision.
The Victoria prison ban came into effect on March 5.